MOSCOW – For the children of a Moscow orphanage, it was a glimpse of a life of plenty. For their visitors, 18-year-old twin sisters from California, it was an emotional return to a place where they once struggled to survive.

More than 16 years after an American couple traveled here to collect two malnourished 2-year-old girls named Galina and Svetlana, the identical twins — now Jessica and Jennifer Allen — have made their first trip back to Children’s Home No. 13.

As Russia and the United States work out an ugly dispute over abuse of Russian adopted children, the sisters’ story brings home how international adoptions can have a happy ending, and carries a message of hope to former Cold War foes still struggling to break down barriers of distrust.

The twins celebrated their Russian heritage as their journey came full circle last week.

“It’s like, wow, we’re from here,” said Jennifer, formerly Svetlana. Her sister chimed in: “We’re definitely Russian.” The twins have high Slavic cheekbones but sound like typical California teenagers.

“We’re so lucky that we got adopted,” Jessica said. “In the pictures we didn’t even have clothes that fit. I had to wear boys’ clothes.”

The story of their 1994 adoption involved an emotionally draining trip to Russia for adoptive parents Pam and Mike Allen. The couple had two biological sons and were eager to adopt a girl to “fill out” their family. When offered twin girls, they quickly agreed.

In August of 1994, Pam, a nurse, and Mike, a former Top Gun pilot, arrived at Children’s Home No. 13 armed with a trove of toys and medicine as gifts. To their alarm, they found the 25-month-old girls had just been discharged from two weeks in the hospital with suspected whooping cough.

Pam remarked that the twins, with puffy cheeks and a raspy rattle when they breathed, looked barely half their age. But the couple bonded with them quickly, seeing how they were otherwise as bouncy and playful as other kids their age.

Their hopes of whisking away their new children hit a snag the next day when Svetlana’s condition deteriorated and she had to be hospitalized again, setting up an agonizing few days as Pam and Mike were refused hospital visits.

A few days later, the twins were deemed well enough to leave. In America, they recovered fully under Western medical care.

“I hope more people saw our story and adopted kids from Russia at that time, because kids really needed to get adopted. There was a lot of sick kids besides us,” Jessica said.